Saturday, January 14, 2017

Preparing for the flight to Antarctica (by Jack)

January 14, 2017

Today was blocked off for detailed planning of the flight south since this was the first time we had the entire flight crew of four together. We commandeered a meeting room in the hotel and converted into our Antarctic flight situation room...

One of the tasks was for the entire crew to agree on the minimum weather forecast we needed in order to launch from SCCI to Antarctica. In other words, the go/no-go criteria. Once we agreed upon those "rules," (which was done quickly), we checked the weather for the next day (January 15th) and it looked good for heading south. That got a lot of wheels moving including sending our local landler at SCCI (Aerocardal) flight plans to file and a trip to the airport to triple-check the plane and meet with the local meteorological office staff.

The full flight crew (including Jerry) with our trusty steed at SCCI the day before we expect to fly south...

Giuseppe made an entertaining time lapse of Jerry practicing donning his imerrsion suit inside the plane...

We are going to assign him a larger suit that is easier to don quickly.

Meeting with the SCCI met office staff for a full briefing...they think the weather for the flight south looks good for tomorrow (the 15th)...

The offical stamped flight plan for flying to Anartica...this piece of paper has been almost a year in the making with the efforts of four dedicated pilots....

So, we departed the airport on the 14th around 1700 local feeling good about launching for the flight south early the next morning.

Over dinner at the hotel, I was checked for the updated weather forecast for SCRM expecting to see continued adequate weather for launching the next day.  To my surprise, the forecast had taken a fairly dramatic turn for the worst and now the second landing at Marsh (SCRM) was below our agreed upon minimums.

While the 7000 meter visibility and 900 FT foretasted ceiling for our second landing at about 22Z was above the instrument approach minimums for SCRM, it was not enough cushion for us (we wanted at least 1500 FT foretasted ceiling), While disappointing, we told the handler it looked like a "no go" for the next day. There was one more updated forecast to be issued around 0100 local, but it showed the same weather, so the flight was finally cancelled for good around 0130 local. 

The weather for the 16th also looked like a no-go, but the 17th looked promising. So, we planned to take the next day (the 15th) off for R&R and then get back to planning mode on the 16th.

Jan 14-15: Punta Arenas, the End of the World in Chile (by Carolyn)

January 14
Becky and I got to explore this port city while the guys spent the entire day planning for a possible Sunday morning departure. The streets were essentially deserted when we headed out of the hotel. We enjoyed the history museum which was attached to the cathedral, the cemetery with spectacular crypts and sheared cypress trees, quaint homes, and cute gift shops. We stumbled upon a neat restaurant/emporium just in time for lunch.

Hotel Rey Don Felipe, named after the Spanish King who ruled when Spaniards came to this area. 
 History Museum

massive sculpted cypress trees in the cemetery

We stepped outside after lunch and the town is packed! Sidewalks were full of locals and tourists (what a difference a cruise ship makes). We wandered back to the hotel, picking our way through a grocery store to secure provisions for the pilots' Big Day.

Dinner at the hotel was quite exciting until the 19:00 weather update indicated minimums far below what our careful pilots will tolerate. A noticeable pall fell across the table. One more chance to check the weather at 1:00 am....

Jan 15
Well, the pilots officially grounded themselves at 1:00 am...the weather was below the minimums. Becky and I, however, were not grounded. We were up and rolling by 8:15 with Esteban Daniels to start our four days of birding.We caught the 10:00 ferry to El Porvenir - a smooth two hour ride with lots of great birds, including imperial comerants, black-browned albatross, skua, etc. (full list when Becky sends it to me.)

We had a leisurely drive stopping at various lagoons and fields to find birds. The most fascinating was Laguna los Cisneros - a vast salt flat exposed over recent years as the lake has dried up. A hard, thin crust crackled under our feet and hollow salt domes looked like geodes turned inside-out. The whole effect was felt like a moonscape until a herd of guanacos (llama cousins) wondered by, then it felt like a Tim Rice movie set.

the underside of the thin crust was marked by worm holes

Somewhere along the way we crossed from Chile to Argentina. Actually, we left Chile via immigration control, got back in the car...drove 10 miles, then entered Argentina at immigration control. I don't know where we were for those 10 miles.

We made it to a monitored king penguin colony just before it closed. These are really spectacular birds! They found this little slip of private property several years ago. Visiting human were inevitable so the owner has worked with conservation groups to build a blind and trails and now there is a small visitor center with parking and restrooms.

At last, we checked into our hotel in Rio Grande before heading out to dinner at 9:00 pm.